Remembering Rebbetzin Miriam Libby Weiss – Part Twenty-Four
By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
There is an ancient custom when visiting someone’s grave. Upon leaving, the visitor picks up a stone from the ground and places it on top of the matzeiva, the monument. There are several reasons offered for this behavior. The most obvious is so that when the family comes, they have evidence that others came to visit their loved one which is a source of comfort for the family. Another interesting reason is that a pebble in Hebrew is a tzror. (Students of Baba Kama are familiar with the word tzroros, pebbles, when the Gemora discusses chickens stepping on pebbles which shoot out and do damage.) We know that we wish that the soul of the deceased should be tzrurah b’tzror hachaim, be bound in the eternal bounds of life. Since the Hebrew word for ‘pebble’ is the same as the word ‘bound,’ we leave a rock to indicate that this is our wish.
But, there is another more profound reason why we place a rock on top of the matzeiva. The matzeiva describes the merits of the deceased. As we leave their grave, we hope to emulate and learn from the good characteristics of the deceased which results in the departed becoming more uplifted. In essence, we are making their monument even taller. That is the symbolism of the rock. By following in their footsteps, we are making the deceased even taller.
There is also a custom to make a bed of rock on the surface of the grave itself. Here again there are different reasons. First of all, sometimes because of the vagaries of the weather, the top surface of the grave starts to sink into the ground which is not respectful to the deceased. Furthermore, if there’s no bed of granite on the grave, people sometimes walk upon the grave to get to other graves thereby causing a bizoyan, a disgrace to the niftar, the departed one. The block of stone ensures that this shouldn’t happen. (Sometimes people use this extra horizontal surface to write the names of persons who perished in the holocaust and don’t have their own monuments.)
I decided that on my wife’s grave, as you can see in the picture, to utilize this granite bed to actually express what I felt she would request from her visitors. Firstly, I was certain that she would say “thank you for coming,” for all her life she was careful to thank anyone who did even the smallest thing for her. I remember when we were first married, she was constantly saying thank you to me. I told her that she doesn’t always have to say it. She responded immediately that her mother had taught her always to say thank you to your husband.
Her sense of hakaras hatov was acute and with a very long memory. Twenty-eight years ago, one of our daughters took ill and four families took care of our small children for five weeks while we were with our daughter in the hospital. For over thirty years, anytime one of these four families had any kind of simcha, my wife insisted that we drop anything that we were doing and go to their simcha because that they took care of our children, never mind that it was a quarter of a century ago. So I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my wife would have certainly said thank you to someone schlepping all the way out to her grave.
Then I took the liberty to assume, since the Gemora says that when you come to think about death you reflect upon proper priorities, that she would have asked her visitors to do something for their spouse, their children, or some good deed like visiting the sick or the lonely. So I put this on the bed that it should be a further merit for her very special soul. May we, in life, always be able to influence people to be better and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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